Movie Review: Touching the Void

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The true story of two young, ambitious mountain climbers’ attempt at the treacherous Siula Grande mountain.

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Kevin Macdonald, 2003

This film, based on the book of the same name by Joe Simpson, follows Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates as they climb the mountain in Peru, using recreations and interviews of the two climbers and their friend Richard Hawking. When Simpson breaks his leg on the descent they try to lower him over a cliff during a storm, but Simpson falls and the situation becomes potentially fatal for both of them. Yates cuts the rope and Simpson falls into a crevasse, then spends the next four days crawling back to their base camp through the treacherous mountain terrain.

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The film is almost entirely recreation, with the interviews from Yates, Simpson and Hawking providing the context for the scenes and emotional impact of the events as they unfold on screen. It’s a phenomenally beautifully shot movie, with the snowy landscapes and abused faces of the actors creating a stark contrast (the make-up on this movie is really impressive). The beginning is particularly lovely before the drama starts, and then the landscape becomes bleak and unforgiving. The men give frank and honest descriptions of what happened, and the actors pour their hearts into it, but the star of the movie is the mountain. It’s a story of survival against tremendous odds, but it’s also long and frequently arduous, a hard watch. The ending is also rather abrupt.  There’s a dissonance between the calm, almost monotonous style of speech in the men’s interviews and the images on screen, and it can become frustrating to watch Simpson struggling through step after step.

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The most fascinating part of the movie is the unflinching pragmatism of its protagonists. Yates makes the decision to cut the rope after several hours of trying to save his friend and admits to thinking about telling a story that would make him sound better, but tells Richard the truth as soon as he gets to base camp. Simpson’s single-minded survival instincts are brutally practical as he pushes himself hour by hour, day by day, through dehydration, crushing loneliness, pain and delirium. Not for a moment does he see Simon cutting the rope as a betrayal, rather he’s happy his friend survived, and he apparently defended Yates from criticism. He’s not the most likeable character but his bravery is astonishing. It’s this story that drives the movie and makes it memorable.

Touching the Void on IMDb

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